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(DV) Alessandrini: Tell Me How Long It Is . . . or Get It Stuck in Iraq







Tell Me How Long It Is . . . or Get It Stuck in Iraq:
The Left Decides What the “Real Issues” Are  

by Patricia Alessandrini
November 6, 2006

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The fact that the mainstream media in America has covered the Foley affair in an irresponsible manner does not exempt those on the Left from engaging in an intelligent manner with the issues raised by this so-called "sex scandal": on the one hand, the disregard for the rule of law by those in power; and, closely connected to this disregard for the rule of law, the continuing degradation of conditions in the American workplace, which has led to a banalization of sexual harassment.

In a moment when the constitution is being undermined and international law flouted by the US Government, why is it trivial for the Left to call out the administration and its allies for their arrogant disregard for the rule of law? Why shouldn't we be outraged that Foley assumed that the laws he drafted wouldn't apply to him, and that the Republican leadership wasn't interested in complying with Title VII protections against sexual harassment as workplace discrimination? The American Left has missed this important opportunity to open a discussion on sexual harassment -- and more generally, discrimination -- in the workplace, partly in order not to seem “hypocritical” or “partisan” in light of its misplaced defense of former President Clinton’s exploitative behavior.

One honorable exception to this silence was the Ms. Magazine article "Teen Workplace Harassment & the Foley Scandal -- The Untold Story" by Debra Katz and Justine F. Andronici. Unfortunately, the Ms. Magazine piece does not make the larger point: workers, especially young ones, tend not to re-vindicate legal protections (even if they are aware of them) from sexual harassment and other forms of abuse and discrimination because they find themselves in an extremely weak position vis-à-vis their employers due to the decline of labor organization and the rise of job instability. It is important to remember that during the huge protests, university shut-downs and other actions that took place throughout France last year in opposition to loosening labor regulations for those under the ago of 26, one of the arguments raised by protesters was that young people would be susceptible to workplace abuses, including sexual harassment, since they would no longer be able to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. In America, where workers are routinely fired at a moment's notice, should anyone be surprised that sexual harassment is rampant? So why does the Left fail to see the banalization of sexual harassment as just another sign of the humiliation of American workers, along with the drop in real wages and waning benefits?

And why do some on the Left contribute to this banalization by saying, in essence, this is just about sex, let’s get on with more serious business? (See, for instance, James Petras, “Elections In The USA: Justice And The Perversion of Justice”) Reflection on and analysis of this affair does not prevent one from addressing what some polls identify to be the number one concern of Americans as election-day approaches (and this very fact means that the Left should also stop bashing the public for caring only about “sex scandals”: the war in Iraq. Clearly, the Bush Administration has systematically disregarded the rule of law on national and international levels in the course of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and more generally in its “war on terror.” It would be absurd for the Left to suggest that Americans and US residents should submit to unwarranted searches of their telephone records because the battle to preserve the right to privacy is less important than that of preserving habeas corpus within the fight against the “war on terror” policies of this administration; rather, these issues are seen as all of a piece in terms of constitutional protections. So why is protection from discrimination not included in this image of a free society? Should we be free but not equal? Should the powerful be free and the powerless silent? Why is this abuse of power -- and what image of a difference in power and access to power could be more striking than a Congressman and his underage page, or a page’s parents and the Republican leadership of the House -- not be held up for exemplifying the lack of accountability to the American people of the Republican majority, shielded as it is by an illegitimate, criminal administration.

Finally, if this case reflects the plight of countless workers (and in particular, non- or underpaid interns) whose recourse to legal action has been weakened as labor rights have been undermined, it also illuminates the mechanisms of the economic draft that supplies the “volunteer” military forces fighting the war in Iraq. How can the Left convince young people with limited means not to enlist in the military in order to gain what the armed forces fraudulently promises them -- health benefits, educational opportunities, a living wage, and some degree of job stability -- without taking an active interest in how these underprivileged individuals will fare on the job market if they do not enlist, and under what kind of conditions they will be working if they do indeed find employment? One of the reasons the Republicans were able to cynically exploit John Kerry’s recent botched joke (aimed at Bush, but misconstrued as referring to the military personnel serving in Iraq) is that underprivileged Americans are truly afraid that a lack of opportunities, particularly in higher education and vocational training, will get their children “stuck in Iraq” in the absence of other options. Those on the Left who would prefer to look the other way when faced with labor discrimination and abuse add insult to the widespread injustice being done to the working people of America, while allowing the war machine to feed at its leisure on the underclasses.

Patricia Alessandrini is a PhD student at Princeton University. She has been a French resident for the past three years, pursuing her career as a composer in Paris. She can be reached at: patricia.alessandrini@gmail.com